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One year of war

One Year Without my Son

A mother who lost her four-year-old son at the start of the war, describes how she has survived over the past year, and offers advice for others in a similar situation.

Anna Yakhno lost her four-year-old son and mother-in-law at the beginning of the war. Almost a year ago, for several weeks, citizens of Kyiv helped in the search for young Sasha, until the fateful moment when his body, along with that of his grandmother, were found.

In an exclusive interview with Kyiv Post, Sasha’s mother recounts how she survived the pain and grief, and offers advice to those who have lost loved ones and found themselves in a similar situation.

Please tell us very briefly what happened at the beginning of the war.

On Feb. 24, Sasha was in Sukholuchchia [a village in Kyiv region]. The territory was quickly occupied by Russians, so we couldn’t go and pick him and his grandmother up that day. Until March 10. they both stayed there without electricity and with poor communications. Sometimes we managed to contact them. The neighbors offered to evacuate them by motorboat, but their boat never came.

Did the Russians shoot the boats?

According to the president, yes, but there are no witnesses. The territory of the Kyiv Reservoir that the boats crossed is vast, so we don't know whether something happened to the boat or whether it was a result of shelling. Even if there was no direct hit to the boat, panic could have begun on the vessel, which led to the deaths of all the people on board.

It's been almost a year now. How do you feel?

Almost all of the past year, I have been working with a psychiatrist and taking antidepressants. Actually, I’ve just recently come off them. I have complex feelings, maybe because of the realization we are approaching the anniversary without Sasha and his grandmother Zoya. It's hard to believe, and it's tough when you realize that a year has passed. Even this interview was a difficult step for me.

The war is still going on, people are dying, children are dying, and there is always disturbing news. How much does it affect you? Are you currently in Ukraine or abroad?

I am abroad right now. Of course, I have returned to visit Ukraine. I was here last Christmas and the country's situation is challenging with constant power cuts, what’s on the news, and realizing how many people are dying – including the military, our best men. I want to sit down and cry, but I know that I have to do something to help.

We are Ukrainians and we are unbreakable. We have to remember that. Each of us can do something even small for our victory.

Who or what helps you manage your grief?

I am not working at the moment, but I volunteered a lot when I was in Ukraine. I realized that when you help someone, you are helping yourself in the process. I'm learning English since I'm in England now. I plan to find a job and work for a volunteer organization.

What is the attitude towards Ukrainians in the U.K.?

The attitude is excellent. I am very grateful to the people who have helped and are still helping me. I'm very thankful to this country for the opportunity to come here and for the conditions provided to Ukrainians. There are a lot of Ukrainians in England now. Of course, everyone wants to go home, but for the time being, it is good to stay here because it’s safe. That said, everyone I talk to wants to go back to Ukraine. These are very different things – emigration and staying somewhere for safety reasons.

In my case, I left Ukraine to take a moral break because it was tough. It was a detox from social media and the news here. However, now I'm feeling better and want to be helpful to Ukraine and to the country I am staying in now.

What supports you the most?

My dog supports me a lot. Unfortunately, I didn't bring him here to the U.K. immediately because the rules for entering the country with animals are complicated. We had to wait until his papers were ready, so I brought him to England after Christmas. I’m pleased to have him here. He's my motivation to go out for a walk.

What advice can you give to people in a similar situation?

The first thing is do not become locked in yourself. Many people close themselves off and don't talk about how they feel. I share my pain every day and continue to do so. You need to understand that everything has a beginning and an end. Whatever type of grief happens, it will get a little easier with time. Of course, we will never forget those we love who are no longer with us, but the main thing is to understand that it will become easier someday and to do some good deeds to help your country.

Does communication help, or is it difficult?

Yes, of course, it helps. I have received so much support from different people in Ukraine who have written to me and continue to write that they support me and share my pain. I realized today that everyone who wrote took away some of my pain, and that's how it works. That's why I survived all this and continue to do so. I live. I dream of being helpful and defending democratic values and the value of life. I am very grateful to everyone who supported me and continues to support me.

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